TAMPA — Avery Winslow was on vacation in Ocean City, N.J., when he got the call during the NHL draft in July.
Surrounded by his family, the St. Pete Beach native received the news that the Lightning were inviting him to their prospect camp, which got underway Tuesday at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
“It was definitely a dream come true,” said Winslow, a defenseman. “Everyone was obviously ecstatic it was Tampa.”
Growing up in the area, Winslow attended Lightning games when he could and modeled his game after players such as Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev. “Those guys are really cool to see,” he said, “and obviously highly talented players.”
Winslow, 19, first laced up skates at age 6. His older brother, Zachary, started skating in 2004, when Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and the Lightning won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. The whole Winslow family started skating soon afterward.
Winslow left the area to pursue a career in hockey and played for the Wenatchee Wild of the British Columbia Hockey League and Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, the same school Lightning coach Jon Cooper attended.
Winslow split the 2019-20 season between the London Knights and North Bay Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League, collecting two goals and 11 assists in 40 games. With the league canceled last season due to the pandemic, he trained in South Florida and played four games with the Islanders Hockey Club of the National Collegiate Development Conference, a junior hockey league in the northeastern U.S.
“I haven’t seen him play that much, but a good two-way defenseman,” said Stacy Roest, the general manager of the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse. “Good mobility, good skater, and he can move the puck, so we’re looking forward to seeing him play.”
The Lightning was looking to fill some spots for its development camp and prospect tournament, and Winslow was a player who “stood out” during the past year and a half, said Al Murray, the organization’s assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting.
“Nothing about his game is elite, but everything about his game is good, and then he works real hard and has a real good attitude,” Murray said. “And we thought that’s the kind of guy that we want to bring in here.”
Winslow is expected to return to the Battalion this season, where he has an opportunity to become an assistant captain, Murray said.
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“The coaches up there are very high on him, and we saw that in the times we got to watch him play, too,” Murray said. “... He has some of the attributes that we’re looking for, and we’re happy to have him here.”
Winslow’s background further adds to his appeal. No one from the Tampa Bay area has ever played for the Lightning.
Returning home over the years, Winslow has noticed the foothold the sport has established in the community thanks in part to the franchise’s on-ice success, including back-to-back Cup championships.
“It’s really cool to see (how) the game of hockey has grown so much,” he said. “... You can really start to see the growth of hockey (here) and the younger people starting to follow along and not just show up to the games.”
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